Monday, February 22, 2016

The Food of Childhood

my mother's potato salad
Please note: this recipe does not conform to my food allergy restrictions, but I do like to make it for those who can enjoy it.

Potato Salad. There are a ka-jillion ways to make it. I grew up on the yellow mustard kind: pretty much mashed potatoes served cold, made yellow with French's mustard and some Miracle Whip blended in to  make it smooth. I liked it a lot.

But when I grew  up and had my own kitchen, I discovered many more potato salad recipes, including the ones with bacon and vinegar and served hot. Yum! 

For the Super Bowl dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago, I tried yet another potato salad recipe. It turned out to be one of those that tastes better leftover. But I served it the day it was made....

After that, Beloved asked wistfully if I remembered how to make the yellow potato salad from my mother's kitchen.  

Well, no, I didn't. All I could recall was that the amounts of the various ingredients were always, well, ambiguous.

So I emailed both my mother and my sister to ask if they would jog my memory. They both replied promptly. 

This is my mother's wording. I think the way she phrased it is charming.  This is often the way old family recipes are remembered. 

I'm glad [Sister] had that recipe because I haven't seen it in a long time. I remembered it as something you just made from experience or memory. The first line is exactly right: "Peel the number of potatoes necessary to make the amount of salad you want." Why don't you choose the bowl you want to serve it in and fill it with uncooked potatoes to see how many you need. About six potatoes seems like a good amount to work with. If that isn't enough, make some more.

The recipe goes on to require Miracle Whip salad dressing, French's Yellow Mustard, chopped onions and sweet pickles, some sugar to taste but not too much, and at the very end, diced hard boiled eggs. She also suggests adding some of the liquid from the pickle jar if the potato mixture is too stiff. 

* * * * *

When Beloved and I were dating, he told me all about his mother's fried peach pies. She originally hailed from Alabama, so this was one of her specialties --  along with biscuits from no recipe whatsoever. Beloved likes to say that she got a big bag of flour and kept experimenting until she got the biscuits the way she liked. After that, her biscuits were always perfect.

I am so impressed. Cooking like that is chemistry. It's not as easy as putting together a green salad. With biscuits the ingredients need to cooperate with each other or else you end up with hockey pucks.

Not long into our marriage, my mother-in-law passed away. I didn't think to ask her how she made those peach pies that made such an indelible imprint on my husband's memory. I have since come across recipes, but strongly doubt they would be exactly as she made them. Nobody can make our favorites quite like our mom, right?
Please note: for those who are interested in gluten- and dairy-free recipes on my blog, Miracle Whip does not claim to be gluten-free and it does contain the ambiguous "natural flavors," which, in the gluten-free world, is something to be avoided since we have no idea exactly what that is. I made this salad for my husband but did not get to eat it myself due to several food allergies developed later in life.


  1. From memory---how right is that? There are many childhood recipe memories and when asked to share, my mother replies, "Now, look, it is from memory! You will just have to try and remember." Code for, "I dunno"-giggling.---thanks Barbara for the many smiles. Have a beautiful day, friend.

  2. this brought back sweet memories for me, about my momma's cooking. always loved her potatoe sald, fried peach, and apple pies. yummy.

  3. Oh, you are SO right. My Granny's fried chicken was the best I've ever eaten and can't be duplicated. She had an extra ingredient that just came from her fingers. Same with my mom's homemade egg noodles and her green tomato relish. I've tried. I quit trying. Some things are just supposed to remain in our hearts and minds (rather than our stomachs!).

  4. Your Mom's potato salad sounds just like the one my Mom used to make. I always thought the sugar she added was her secret ingredient! I love all kinds of potato salad but my Mother's was the best by far! Have a wonderful day!

  5. Oh, my, this brought back so many memories. I do not care for any of the potato salads I grew up with. I like red skin potato salad, made with sour cream and mayo and it is so delicious. I rarely make it but I sure do like it. Happy new week!